Pimping Kim Kardassian’s Little Sis: A New Cultural Norm?

Blogger Joel Schwartzberg asks, “Should 14-year old Kendall Jenner Be Doing a Bikini Shoot?

You ask, “Who the heck is Kendall Jenner?” She is the half-sister of the Kardashian girls, Kim, Kourtney and Khloe, all three of reality show stars, celebrities, paparazzi fodder, and lacking in any discernible talent, wit, or justification for their existence. Kim’s claim to fame is a spectacularly cantilevered derriere, and Kourtney and Khloe are distinguished by the fact that they are related to her. In 21st Century America, this is enough for to get you endorsements, clothing lines, and a place on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Kendall, whose father is former Olympian Bruce Jenner, apparently thought it was time to get into the family business (trash) before his three comely stepdaughters’ 15 minutes of fame ran out, so he and his wife approved a photo shoot of her in a bikini. The photos of her turned out “soooo gorgeous” in the words of Kim (or whoever actually writes her blog) that they are now on the “US Magazine” site, as well as sister Kim’s home page.

“New rule,” fumes Schwartzberg. “If you’re not allowed to see an R-rated film, then you shouldn’t be doing sexy photo shoots in a skimpy bikini….The point isn’t that a 14-year-old is wearing a bikini. That happens. Girls will be girls. The point is that adults (Jenner recently signed with Wilhelmina Modeling Agency) conceived and approved a sexy, skin-sational photo shoot with a 14-year-old girl; and that other adults — including her parents — thought it okay. The photos send an explicit message that showing skin and looking sexy is something 14-year-old girls should aspire to, look up to and celebrate…To me, asking if these photos are appropriate is like asking if it’s appropriate for a 14-year-old celebrity to be professionally posed and shot smoking cigarettes. We can’t expect kids not to emulate celebrities their age. What we can expect is that young celebrities act their age, if not in private (celebrities will be celebrities), then at least in a thought-out, posed pictorial…Actually, strike that. We should expect responsible parents not to put their kids in those situations.”

Now that I’ve seen the photos (you can too, here), I am torn. Yes, it’s a bikini shoot, and yes, Jenner looks a lot older than 14. On the other hand, the photos are about as modest and tasteful as a bikini shoot could possibly be. They are not particularly sexual, and I would say they are considerably less provocative than a lot of print ads featuring teens. Was this irresponsible of Jenner’s parents? Does the culture make the call that this is taboo—no slick photo shoots of precocious 14-year olds in skimpy dress, or do we say, simply, that horse left the barn, bought a ticket on a zeppelin, and will never be back in the barn again?

Let’s look at the issues:

1. Is this corrupting Jenner? Boy, that’s  a tough case to make. Her three half sisters are the epitome of media whores; her entire family’s life is on TV and in the tabloids. The chances of Kendall Jenner becoming a nuclear physicist or lecturer in Elizabethan literature are about the same as the odds of Khloe winning a Scrabble game against Steven Hawking. This is Bizarro World for real, my friends. That’s where Kendall Jenner lives, for better or worse. on the list of corrupting influences in her life, a relatively modest photo shoot in a bikini has come in at 9,378 or lower, just behind listening to any two of her spoiled, tasteless sisters discuss anything.

2. Is the photo shoot sending a corrupting message to America’s youth? “The photos send an explicit message that showing skin and looking sexy is something 14-year-old girls should aspire to, look up to and celebrate,’ says Schwartzberg. I’m not sure they do, but if they do, that message has been sent, accepted, sent again, memorized, and engraved on the insides of the skulls of every American woman for decades.  The impact of Jenner’s sunny photos on the young women who see them will be minimal, and almost certainly nothing at all.

3. Okay, forget consequences: is a photo shoot of a girl that young inherently appealing to perverse and inappropriate instincts, and per se wrong? Well, why should it be, in today’s culture? Certainly we all can imagine pictures and videos of young girls that are inappropriate: look at some of the scenes in Dakota Fanning’s most recent films, when she was only 15. But real 14 year-old girls, and younger, can be seen in bikinis and other outfits far more revealing than anything in Jenner’s photos, on any beach, at any poolside, on any day of the summer….or on their Facebook pages, 24 hours a day. Yes, I think their parents are certifiable, but there have been enough certifiable parents over the years allowing pre-teens to dress like teens and teens to dress like hookers that the standards of acceptable and  appropriate dress, make-up and comportment for young women has settled at a point I would consider inappropriate and unacceptable. My parents would agree with me, and so would William Howard Taft. But none of us has a say anymore in this part of the culture.  Jenner’s photographs are well short of the extremes of current cultural limits.

The verdict: the photo shoot is OK, and Kendall Jenner has a fighting chance to be less nauseating than her sisters.

But I’m going to keep hoping she goes into nuclear physics…

6 thoughts on “Pimping Kim Kardassian’s Little Sis: A New Cultural Norm?

  1. As cultural mores change, we all have to be sure that our ethical analyses (all of which are at least partly culture-bound too) change with them, lest we be thought irrelevant by the group most in need of ethics education. I wouldn’t want my 14-year-old twins to appear in those photos either (well, maybe when they get their braces off), but it’s hard to see how these pictures, which Life Magazine would have carried in the 1960’s if the model were an adult, are much to get excited about. I suspect that most of the people who spend much time with these photos neither know nor care how old the model is, anyway.

    But talk about feeling Taftish. My oldest daughter just turned 17 and got a couple of fairly racy Lady Ga-Ga T-shirts as gifts. I said to her, doubtfully, “Do they let you wear things like this in school?” and Alice, not missing a beat, replied: “Yes, Daddy, and they let us show some ankle too.”

  2. Small wonder this, as the local paper carried an article this morning that American girls are beginning to reach puberty at age 8.

  3. I think the unethical aspect is that Kendall’s parents are enabling her to join her sisters in a tasteless “career” before she’s old enough to make an educated choice. I can see a 14-year-old wanting to be photographed in a bikini … but I can’t see a parent allowing the results of that shoot to be made public. Haven’t they learned from Lindsay Lohan?

    • In that family, in that culture, with those influences, do you think she really has a choice? Or could ever be aware of other options? Does a fish hatched and raised in a crummy polluted pond dream of the Pacific?

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